Michaela McAreavey’s fairytale marriage was brutally ended by two thieves she caught red-handed in her bedroom, a court in Mauritius has been told.
The daughter of Tyrone football boss Mickey Harte screamed as she was murdered in the room in the island’s luxury Legends Hotel by two staff members, a chief prosecutor told jurors.
Opening the case against the two accused, Mehdi Manrakhan claimed that a third employee heard her cries from outside the door, but instead of helping her, ran away and hid.
The lawyer said Mrs McAreavey, from Ballygawley, Co Tyrone, and her husband John had flown to Mauritius to spend “what was meant to be the best days of their married life”.
“Regrettably, members of the jury, that honeymoon was brutally interrupted by the senseless murder of the bride,” said Mr Manrakhan.
Defendants Avinash Treebhoowon and Sandip Mooneea deny the charge of premeditated murder. The court heard that Mr Treebhoowon confessed to police in the days after the death but later claimed the statement had been beaten out of him.
John McAreavey was not in the Supreme Court in Port Louis because he is due to be a witness later in the trial, but his sister Claire and Michaela’s brother Mark Harte listened intently as the prosecutor outlined the facts of the case.
“Members of the jury, right at the end of Dec 2010, Mr John McAreavey, a young professional accountant of 26 years old, married the love of his life Ms Michaela Mary Harte, a young and beautiful lady of 27 years old who was a teacher,” said Mr Manrakhan.
“Both were Irish nationals and their fairytale wedding took place in the North of Ireland where they both came from.”
Mr Manrakhan claimed that two days after the couple’s arrival at Legends, hotel employee Raj Theekoy had been cleaning room 1012 when Mr Mooneea and Mr Treebhoowon walked in.
The lawyer said Mr Treebhoowon told Mr Mooneea a “do not disturb” sign was still hanging outside the McAreaveys’ room — 1025.
Mr Mooneea allegedly then called the room to see if there was an answer. With nobody picking up, the prosecutor claimed floor supervisor Mr Mooneea sent attendant Mr Treebhoowon to clean the room.
About 50 minutes later, Mr Theekoy claimed he left room 1012 and went to see Mr Treebhoowon.
“At around 2.40pm Raj Theekoy left room 1012 and went to meet Accused No 1 [Mr Treebhoowon] at room 1025,” said Mr Manrakhan.
“When he reached near room 1025 at around 2.45pm he saw the trolley of Accused No 1 outside room 1025 but the door of the room was closed shut.
“When he got closer to the door of room 1025 he heard a female crying ‘ah, ah, ah’ as if she was in pain.
“Raj Theekoy, members of the jury, got scared when he heard that female voice crying and he went to hide near room 1021, which is close to room 1025, and also to see who would come out of room 1025.
“Members of the jury, Raj Theekoy would see both accused coming out of room 1025. In fact, Accused No 1’s face appeared wet and he was wiping his face with his hand.”
Mr Manrakhan said Mr Theekoy confronted the pair about what happened but was allegedly warned by Mr Mooneea: “If you open your mouth I’ll get you involved in the case.”
The prosecutor revealed that Mr Treebhoowon confessed to police after his arrest.
“Accused No 1, Mr Treebhoowon, has, in a statement given to the police three days after the killing, fully confessed to having participated in the killing of Michaela,” he said.
“He explained in detail how he had been stealing in room 1025 when he was caught red-handed by Michaela. In order not to be exposed, since Michaela had clearly identified him, he willingly participated in her killing.”
Mr Manrakhan said Mr Mooneea has maintained his innocence throughout, claiming he was in another part of the hotel at the time of the murder.
However, the lawyer said evidence from other hotel workers and from records of keycard use would show the accused to be a “blatant liar”.
He explained to the jurors that the evidence linking him to the murder was circumstantial.
Ms McAreavey had returned to the room to fetch biscuits for her tea while her husband sat at the pool, he said. She was found dead in the bath.
The court heard both accused had keycards to access rooms as part of their job and that Mr Treebhoowon was scheduled to clean room 1025 on the day of the murder.
Mr Manrakhan said medical examinations showed that Ms McAreavey died from asphyxiation due to compression of the neck.
“Medical evidence is such that there can be no doubt that Michaela had been brutally killed,” he said.
After the prosecution’s opening statement, defence counsel Sanjeev Teeluckdharry briefly rose to his feet to respond, emphasising to the jury that they had to be certain beyond reasonable doubt of the two men’s guilt.
Later, two police officers who formally charged the suspects with murder revealed to the court how the accused had responded.
Officer Ahmad Reshad Delawarally charged Mr Treebhoowon. He said the defendant replied, in French Creole, that he had nothing to do with the case, adding: “The MCIT [Major Crime Investigation Team] beat me up and forced me to sign that statement.”
The officer said the accused also claimed MCIT had threatened him and his lawyer.
Goinda Murdaymootoo charged Mr Mooneea. The officer said the accused declared, also in Creole: “I know nothing in the case, I am totally innocent.”
The trial in the old French colonial court building is one of the most high-profile criminal cases ever held on the island.
A jury of nine is hearing the case before Mr Justice Prithviraj Fecknah.
Almost 50 witnesses are listed to give evidence.
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